Hazardous Highway Situations Posed by Overweight or Overloaded Semi Trailers

As passenger car drivers, everyone should remember that semi tractor-trailers and other large commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) are not only large but also heavy machines that can present a deadly situation should the operator behind the wheel lose control of that large vehicle, especially at higher speeds such as those encountered on Maryland’s beltways and interstate roadways. These massive trucks are many times larger and more powerful than even the largest sport utility vehicle or pickup truck, making them a potential treat most any time.

When empty, a typical 18-wheel tractor-trailer combination can weigh in at 10 to 15 tons; fully loaded, a commercial semi can weigh as much as 40 tons. The personal injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC, know that a CMV’s five- to 15-times greater weight advantage over the average passenger car means that this is not a level playing field when highway trucking accidents are concerned. Being involved in such a serious roadway collision with an over-the-road semi rig can spell disaster for the occupants of any small sedan or family minivan.

Unfortunately, Maryland’s busy interstates and crowded beltways provide the prefect combination of densely-packed passenger and commercial vehicles and fast moving traffic conditions. A single mistake by any of the hundreds of truckers that travel our state’s surface streets and highways can lead to a severe injury-related crash or deadly road wreck. One of the numerous causes of trucking-related traffic collisions is improperly loaded trailers that have been filled with cargo beyond federal and state weight limits.

An overloaded or overweight CMV can be serious accident just waiting to happen. As Baltimore automobile injury attorneys, we understand that rules and regulations can only provide a modicum of safety, which usually requires compliance on the part of transportation companies and the truck drivers who work for them. With tens of thousands of injury-related trucking accidents happening every year, the importance of loading and weight restrictions in terms of safety to the general public cannot be over-emphasized.

For starters, it should usually be assumed that any large commercial truck has the potential to cause injury or death in the case of a medium- to high-speed crash with a much smaller passenger vehicle. Even under the most controlled situations, CMVs pose a great hazard to motorists and their passengers on Maryland roadways. However, when a semi tractor-trailer or other large truck is being driven in an overloaded or overweight condition, there is an even greater risk of a serious trucking-related accident taking place.

The trucking industry, like the regulating authorities, understands quite well that a commercial truck carrying too much weight that is, cargo weight that exceeds the safe limits of the truck’s carrying capacity can be negatively impact the trucker’s ability to control or maneuver that vehicle. Similarly, excessive weight beyond the manufacturer’s specifications can result in damage to one or more of a CMV’s components, such as the braking system and tires. One of the more common kind of trucking accident involves the so-called “jack-knifing” of the tractor and trailer, which can occur when the driver of an overloaded vehicle attempts to make a sudden or emergency stop from a high rate of speed.

All 18-wheeler rigs are designed by their manufacturers to operate safely when carrying the maximum specified amount of weight. This maximum weight is referred to as the vehicle’s GVWR, or gross vehicle weight rating. Commercial truck makers arrive at a truck’s specific GVWR by calculating the load-carrying capacity and other factors of a number of critical components, including the vehicle’s axles, front and rear suspension systems, vehicle and trailer frames, the tractor’s engine and transmission, and the braking systems.

Federal and state regulations specify the maximum weight that a CMV is allowed to carry. The personal injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen know that if a trucking-related traffic accident involving death, injury or property damage, the fleet owner and the commercial trucker who was operating the vehicle at the time of the crash can be held responsible, especially in cases where the truck’s weight limits were found to have been unlawfully exceeded.

While many trucking accidents occur as a result of driver inattention or poorly maintained safety-critical parts and components, an overloaded truck can be just as dangerous, if not more so, depending on the circumstances surrounding a particular roadway collision. It is obvious that when a truck is loaded beyond its safe maximum carrying capacity, the additional mass can make the vehicle much more difficult to bring to a stop. Similarly, an overloaded CMV has a much greater propensity to go out of control when the driver attempts to make a swerving emergency maneuver to avoid an accident.

Some of the numerous consequences of driving an overweight tractor-trailer, which can potentially result in a trucker losing control of the vehicle, include the following:

  • Increased speed on downhill grades
  • Greatly reduced vehicle speed when going uphill
  • Much increased stopping distance
  • Higher-than-normal center of gravity (CG) leading to a rollover
  • Reduced steering control and maneuverability

To help enforce federal and state CMV regulations, Maryland maintains commercial vehicle weigh stations located at strategic points along our highways and interstates. Weigh stations are able to check for tractor-trailers that may be carrying overweight cargo, as well as checking for any illegal or falsely reported freight and goods. In many instances, if weigh station personnel discover a truck is in an overweight condition, it has been known that the driver will be issued a citation for the violation, but the truck will often be allowed to resume its trip without any change to the amount of cargo being carried.

Whether the driver is simply given a ticket for the violation or if the truck is detained until an overweight permit can be issued, the odds of an accident are still high due to the fact that an excessively heavy commercial vehicle can have other problems that are not yet evident. The potential issues presented by an overweight or overloaded CMV include the following:

  • Overheated tires and potential blowout situations
  • Overheated or failed brakes
  • Extended stopping distances
  • Tipping hazards in corners or high winds
  • Reduced brake efficiency due to weight shifting
  • Accelerated deterioration of roadway surfaces and damage to bridges

As trucking injury accident lawyers, the legal team at Lebowitz & Mzhen investigates the facts of each commercial trucking injury case to determine the responsible parties. In most cases, the trucker operating the vehicle is responsible for inspecting the cargo and loading of his or her vehicle. If only for their own safety and peace of mind, drivers should confirm that the vehicle load is evenly distributed and properly secured on the trailer. He or she must also make certain the gross vehicle weight conforms to federal and state regulations and that the load does not exceed the manufacturer’s specifications for that truck.

While commercial truck drivers typically have the primary responsibility for assuring correct vehicle loading, other parties may share some of the responsibility, depending on the circumstances. Personal injury claims or wrongful death lawsuits arising from an accident caused by an improperly loaded trailer or overweight vehicle may name the trucking company, fleet owner or loading company, among others.

If you or someone you care about has suffered a serious bodily injury because of an overweight or overloaded truck, you may be entitled to financial compensation. The attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen feel that innocent victims of trucking-related road accidents should not have to bear the burden of expensive hospital bills and long-term rehabilitation costs resulting from another individual’s negligence.

As commercial trucking accident lawyers, our professional legal staff considers the physical injuries caused by a truck crash, as well as the emotional impact of such an incident. Because of the violent and sometimes deadly nature of a commercial truck wreck, physical and emotional recovery can take months or years. Our ultimate goal is to help our clients recover not only recent costs for medical care, but also fight for the victim’s future costs of treatment and rehabilitation, if any.

Our attorneys are trained in the area of personal injury, as well as insurance law. As such, we prepare each claim with the full intent of taking the victim’s case to trial and seeing it through to the end. In some instances, a well-prepared injury claim can result in an out-of-court settlement, which can help the victim avoid a lengthy and sometimes emotionally painful court hearing. We encourage any victim of an automobile, motorcycle or trucking-related accident to consider speaking with a knowledgeable traffic accident injury lawyer. We offer a no-obligation consultation, which can be arranged when calling our law office at (800) 654-1949, or e-mailing either Jack Lebowitz or Vadim Mzhen.